Topic Actions

Topic Search

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

Textbooks

In the breaks in his writing schedule, David has promised to stop by and chat for a while!
Textbooks
Post by Lord Skimper   » Fri Jul 25, 2014 12:00 pm

Lord Skimper
Vice Admiral

Posts: 1656
Joined: Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:49 am
Location: Calgary, Nova, Gryphon.

I always have wondered if Novelists, like David Weber or others could write a better Textbook. A way of getting the pertinent information across in a way that was enjoyable to read and much easier to remember.

Too often Textbooks are so dry and or boring that one just drifts in thought or has to stop reading. Yet I can pick up A Rising Thunder and read it through cover to cover in 3 days.

I have university Textbooks I have read a chapter from but have never and likely never ever will finish.

Now I know a Story goes a long way and a good story is hard to put down, Textbooks typically do not tell stories and perhaps I'm wired to like the story. However a Story with lots of fact or Speculation (philosophy is all speculation) told by a Master Story Teller would likely allow for better understanding and retention than another Textbook forced upon kids.
________________________________________
Just don't ask what is in the protein bars.
Top
Re: Textbooks
Post by Bolo's Honor   » Sat Aug 09, 2014 9:43 pm

Bolo's Honor
Midshipman

Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Aug 08, 2014 10:42 pm

[quote="Lord Skimper"]I always have wondered if Novelists, like David Weber or others could write a better Textbook. A way of getting the pertinent information across in a way that was enjoyable to read and much easier to remember.

=======================================================

In general, I think that is what the sub-genre of "Juvenile" books is focused upon. Stories that teach aspects of the fundamentals behind the stories. I think you are partially correct, in that anything reasonably accurate in "relevant fundamentals" that actually gets read is more educational than even the most-accurate and insightful tabulation of facts that just gathers dust.

However, I have (occasionally) encountered textbooks that "grabbed my imagination". Rarely, but it has happened. The real problem, I think, is that Teaching itself is an art and skill that is basically under-appreciated. Just like constructing a good story with suitable pacing and interesting characters is its own art-form, so is catching and holding the interest of a mind in such a way that it actively wants to learn. This is completely separate from having competence in the subject being taught (which, to some extent, is also required).

As to novelist textbook writers, there have definitely been a few. Isaac Asimov springs immediately to mind. However, trying to make a textbook-novel is a much more difficult proposition. How do you present the information, the historical and empirical evidence for it, and the tools to utilize that information, while also promulgating a good plotline.

Terry Pratchett has done something much like what you are asking for in his "Science of Discworld" books. Herman Melville's Moby Dick also provides an interesting example, with its alternating chapters of storyline -vs- nautical lore. But, it is certainly a rare bird to encounter.
Top
Re: Textbooks
Post by Lord Skimper   » Fri Sep 19, 2014 11:15 pm

Lord Skimper
Vice Admiral

Posts: 1656
Joined: Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:49 am
Location: Calgary, Nova, Gryphon.

I have a few philosophy books that are written in a story way. Great for introducing the complicated ideas in a more easy to understand read. Although most philosophers are terrible at writing fiction, Daniel C Dennett in "the Minds I" does a pretty good job with his introduction. But it is clear he is not a novelist. For others the attempt is terrible even unreadable. D. E. Hardings "On having no head" is so bad one has trouble picking it up to continue reading. Worse than the extreme idea presentations of John Searle Chinese room which is so hard and complex to read it can take an entire day to read and understand a single page.

Yet somehow I can read Cauldron of Ghosts in two days and love every minute of it.

There must be a way to combine the two, besides just having thought experiments dryly explained and argued without a story. Having Harkness explain the Chinese room to an Ensign in a Honorverse setting with Honorverse story and actions going on would be infinitely more enjoyable to read than
"1. As regards the first claim, it seems to me quite
obvious in the example that I do not understand a
word of the Chinese stories. I have in-puts and outputs
that are indistinguishable from those of the native
Chinese speaker, and I can have any formal program
you like, but I still understand nothing. For the same
reasons, Schank's computer understands nothing of
any stories, whether in Chinese, English, or whatever,
since in the Chinese case the computer is me, and in
cases where the computer is not me, the computer
has nothing more than I have in the case where I
understand nothing."
Searle, John R. Minds, Brains, and Programs, The Behavioural and Brain Sciences, Vol. 3, 1980

In science - Physics or Math or even Chemistry or Biology a story to explain a theory or property would go a long way to grasping a reader and keeping them both entertained and educated.

A train leaves Chicago and another train leaves Washington DC they are ..... Where are they when they pass each other? Would be much more entertaining and readable and configurable as Two Starships passing each other while getting the lead of their grasers to fire upon and hit the other starship...with a story to go along with it. It might take longer to tell the story but the information is left in the reader and one isn't dreading another train passing another train story.

One wonders if they use the starship or the train method in the Honorverse. Let alone if they even have trains in the Honorverse.

Anyhow I still think it would be a better way to explain what is otherwise presented in a dry never to be read textbook. Add a story embed the facts and theories in the story and in telling and reading the story learn.
________________________________________
Just don't ask what is in the protein bars.
Top
Re: Textbooks
Post by biochem   » Tue Oct 14, 2014 12:25 pm

biochem
Rear Admiral

Posts: 1190
Joined: Thu Aug 19, 2010 8:06 pm
Location: USA

I also would love to have science texts written in an enjoyable manner. However for some insane reason to be taken seriously scientific writing has to be as dry as possible. It's not just the textbooks take a stroll through pubmed and no matter how interesting the topic the articles are written in the most boring manner possible.

It must be the same impulse that drives the education establishment to torture us with the most depression inducing literature possible in English classes and somehow through intense boringification manages to make history dull. I mean history IS a story, they really have to work hard at that one!
Last edited by biochem on Wed Nov 19, 2014 12:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Top
Re: Textbooks
Post by DDHv   » Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:57 pm

DDHv
Captain of the List

Posts: 487
Joined: Thu Sep 11, 2014 5:59 pm

Bolo's Honor wrote:Terry Pratchett has done something much like what you are asking for in his "Science of Discworld" books. Herman Melville's Moby Dick also provides an interesting example, with its alternating chapters of storyline -vs- nautical lore. But, it is certainly a rare bird to encounter.


Our elementary school was across the street from the county library, and in second grade they would march us over, get us a library card, and start training us in good library manners. Each week we returned one book, and checked out another. :) My introduction to SF came some years later when I sneaked up the back stairs and found myself in the adult stacks. Astounding was publishing Hal Clement's "Mission of Gravity." Clement, who I think was a high school science teacher, followed up the series with an article in Astounding on the design of Mesklin, describing what was known about the system it was based on, and what other assumptions had been made in order to allow the story. :D This may have been what triggered my interest in science, and also may have led to my insistence on checking out assumptions.

The basic problem is that so much is known that it is not possible to check everything. What can be done is to locate important paradigms, figure out their assumptions, and try to see if observation supports those particular points.

Example: radioactive dating. Every version seems to have two unknowns in it: the parent isotope starting figure and the daughter isotope starting figure. Algebra states that when there are two unknowns in an equation the result is indeterminate. In the case of C14, given the short half life, it may make sense to assume little or no starting daughter isotope. But for the others:

Lava gathered from the Mt. Ngauruhoe eruption gave dates of: K-Ar, 270,000 to 3.5 megayears
Rb-Sr, over 133 megayears
Sm-Nd, nearly 200 megayears
Pb-Pb, around 3.9 gigayears

The volcano threw out that lavaflow less than 60 years ago.

There are many other observations along similar lines. Example: A lavaflow on the rim of the Grand Canyon dates as much older than the basalt near the bottom. Even with C14 dating, while recent dates test out, early ones give results that disagree with other evidence.

Until someone comes up with a good method to find starting daughter isotope figures, I cannot rely on these dating methods.

We need to send the theorists back to their drawing boards more often than we do :evil: It isn't what we don't know that fouls things up, it is the things we "know" that aren't so :!:

Just to make it worse, some recent experiments have shown that some isotopes do not have constant decay rates not changed by outside forces. At present I know of no theory on this.

Mullins, J. 2009. Solar ghosts may haunt Earth's radioactive atoms. New Scientist. 2714: 42-45.

Cardone, F., R. Mignani R. and A. Petrucci. 2009. Piezonuclear decay of thorium. Physics Letters A. 373 (22): 1956-1958.

I think of it as like drilling for oil. You need to locate possible reservoirs(good theories), then drill down through the strata(dependent theories) to the formation(basic theory) to find out if there is really oil(good evidence.)

PS. In case it isn't obvious, I'm something of a arguer. I believe in: "Prove all things. Hold on to what is good." My assumption is that there is a reality against which all paradigms should be tested (except in fiction, of course.)
Douglas Hvistendahl
Retired technical nerd

Dumb mistakes are very irritating.
Smart mistakes go on forever
Unless you test your assumptions!
Top
Re: Textbooks
Post by Annachie   » Wed Nov 19, 2014 5:00 am

Annachie
Vice Admiral

Posts: 1559
Joined: Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:36 pm

The best science text book I ever read was by Asimov. A 2 book thing the name of which escapes me.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
You are so going to die. :p ~~~~ runsforcelery
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
still not dead. :)
Top
Re: Textbooks
Post by Imaginos1892   » Thu Nov 20, 2014 11:02 pm

Imaginos1892
Captain of the List

Posts: 749
Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2012 3:24 pm
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Annachie wrote:The best science text book I ever read was by Asimov. A 2 book thing the name of which escapes me.

I used to have a copy of Asimov's The Chemicals Of Life.
------------------
Can not run out of time. Time is infinite.
You are finite. Zathras is finite. This...is wrong tool.
No, no, no. Very bad. Never use this.
Top
Re: Textbooks
Post by biochem   » Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:13 pm

biochem
Rear Admiral

Posts: 1190
Joined: Thu Aug 19, 2010 8:06 pm
Location: USA

If Asimov could do it, perhaps RFC could do it. I'd love to see some high school history (and college) history texts written by RFC. I strongly believe that would substantially improve knowledge of history by the high schoolers/college students in question to read history presented in an interesting fashion. Of course that would torture us because it would slow down the rate at which we'd get the next novel. But then again, we could read the history text too! Interesting history isn't only of interest to (official) students.
Top
Re: Textbooks
Post by DDHv   » Thu Nov 27, 2014 11:03 pm

DDHv
Captain of the List

Posts: 487
Joined: Thu Sep 11, 2014 5:59 pm

biochem wrote:If Asimov could do it, perhaps RFC could do it. I'd love to see some high school history (and college) history texts written by RFC. I strongly believe that would substantially improve knowledge of history by the high schoolers/college students in question to read history presented in an interesting fashion. Of course that would torture us because it would slow down the rate at which we'd get the next novel. But then again, we could read the history text too! Interesting history isn't only of interest to (official) students.


Not just history. The pattern of Clement's follow up discussion of the physics of Mesklin could be used by other writers, once a series was completed. Hopefully a decision to follow up on Honorverse physics will not need to be made in the near future :!:

Many SF writers have used discussions by the characters to introduce the variations they are using. Sometimes these are useful also, particularly when they bring in something that shows the difference from current paradigms. The hard part is arousing a desire to do the work needed to compare a paradigm, fictional or otherwise, to the real universe. Most of us do not have the resources to do good experimental or observational work, and many people don't even do good library research. :cry:

OTHND, usually the most critical things are found by someone not planning on anything of the sort. How much longer to the discovery of natural radioactivity if Becqueral hadn't happened to put a photographic plate and some uranium ore into the same drawer as a result of his investigation into X-rays :?:

Three cheers for focused curiosity :!: :geek:

Four cheers for serendipity :!: :ugeek:
Douglas Hvistendahl
Retired technical nerd

Dumb mistakes are very irritating.
Smart mistakes go on forever
Unless you test your assumptions!
Top
Re: Textbooks
Post by MPCatchup   » Sun Nov 30, 2014 12:27 am

MPCatchup
Lieutenant (Junior Grade)

Posts: 41
Joined: Sun Dec 01, 2013 8:40 pm

I know that I have learned more about the history of the 1630's from reading Eric Flint's Grantville series than I ever learned about that period in history classes and I enjoyed it much more.
Top

Return to David's Dimension